28 June 2009

Purification: Prayer and Sweat

This is for my friend, BB Mumblings who couldn't go with me last night. She claims that she got caught up on the river in her kayak, but I know for a fact that she was really in some trucker bar off Govenor John Sevier Highway drinking ice cold Millers and smoking Marlboros.

Last night I went to a purification ceremony led by my friend, Chaska, a Dakota Native American. I did not plan to journal this experience, so I didn't enter the realm in a journalistic frame of mind. I, instead, tried to remain clear minded and open to the experience.

When I arrived, a three men were preparing the site and fire, and I quickly jumped in to help assemble the sweat lodge.

Chaska came out after some time and spoke to us at great length intermingling stories of his own life with general life lessons and native teachings.

Chaska had told me to bring two towels and wear comfortable sweat pants and a top. I donned a thin pair of cotton capri yoga pants and a tank top, which ended up being the perfect amount of clothing. It was comfortable without being overbearing, but I know for next time not to bring such thick or big towels.

Before going into the lodge, Chaska and the others were gracious in their instructions to me, a new comer. I truly felt like a young child embarking on a new adventure with protocols that were unfamiliar. For example, I didn't know that participants bring gifts of tobacco to the singer (Chaska) and the firekeeper. Oops. I had also been told that I may see flying lights or orbs during the ceremony. I was also forwarned about the not so pretty side which is snot running from the nose and coughing stuff from the lungs. That's what one of the two towels is for. The other is for wiping the sweat. A small dish towel would be sufficient for a snot rag and a handtowel might be suffient for the second towel. I was grateful to have a thick towel which I folded to sit on.

Chaska told us that during the purification ceremony, we didn't pray for money or material things for ourselves, but we prayed to the spirits and our ancestors for our family, friends and loved ones. We pray for health and happiness. We go into the hut to humble ourselves and make ourselves pitiful so our ancestors and the spirits will help us.

Before going in, Chaska showed us all a medicine bag that he made for a Dakota medicine man, but the medicine man died before the gift could be given to him. He explained that during a ceremony, the bag, which sounds like a rattle when shook, laid outside the hogan by the door where an alter of sorts was erected. During song, he could here the rattle. Towards the end of the round, the ground shook, and no one knew what it was. When he finished singing and the person went out to get more rocks for the pit, he asked, "Is someone shaking a rattle?" Everyone responded no. They found the medicine man's medicine bag in the water and not on the ground where he left it. The above sequnce happened three more times with each time the medicine bag ending up in the water. Chaska took that as the deceased man declaring that he wanted to be invited into the ceremony. Since then, the bag also enters the hut. It has been known to fly around during ceremony.

We entered the lodge, saying, "All my relations," or, "Mitakuye Oyasin" (pronounced mi-TAWK-wee-a-say) which is a way of honoring our ancestors and is a prayer of oneness and harmony with all forms of life. It reminds us that we are connected to these other aspects of Creation, that we share a common kinship in the cycles of creation and life. We entered the hut in a counter clockwise direction with Chaska in the front circling all the way around to his seat by the door followed by four more and with myself at the rear next to Chaska on the other side of the entry door. There was a space between us where the hot rocks were brought to the fire pit in the middle. We sat on blankets on the ground. I'm sure that Chaska put me by the door in case I freaked out and needed to leave. He never said this, but it was a wise strategy.

The fellow handling the rocks brought in ten rocks per Chaska's instruction. While he did this, Chaska tossed sage onto the rocks. After the rocks were in place, the rock handler climbed in and shut the door. He crawled past me and took the seat immediately to my left. Once the door was closed, we sat in complete darkness except for the glowing rocks.

Chaska gave some instruction that we would have three rounds. During the first round he told us to focus on our loved ones and purification, but not to pray which we would do during the second round. He, then sang in his native tongue with everyone else who knew the words joining in.

I soon heard the rattle and when I looked towards the direction of its sound, I saw an orb of greenish yellow light, between the size of a golf and tennis ball, enter the hut at the door and go to the area where the I heard the medicine bag shaking.

Chaska continuously played the drum and sang. I heard the medicine bag flying around. I saw yelowish sparks in the fire pit. Using a buffalo horn, Chaska poured the spring water onto the rocks, and things really heated up. He explained that the rocks are the oldest things on this planet and hold ancient wisdom and knowledge. He prayed that as the water hit the rocks that their wisdom would some out in the steam and heat which he instructed us to breathe in. He said to breathe in through the nose and out the mouth as well as in the mouth and out the nose.

After the water hit the rocks, the sweat began to pour from my body, and I told myself not to freak out. Chaska was good at warning me to let me know every step. I felt that I could handle it, but when in the heat of things, the mind can become powerful and try to enact the flight reaction.

Each round can go for an indefinate amount of time. Each round is determined by the singer who gets his cues from the spirits. The protocol is to follow each session and prayers with, "Mitakuye Oyasin." At the break, only the rock handler goes outside. He opens the back of the hut and the front door to give us some cool air, but we all remained in the hut. Chaska passed around water served in the buffalo horn.

Last night, each round was successively shorter, but this may not always be the case. We went for a total of four. The second and third rounds, we spent in prayer. While Chaska played the drum, we chanted and said our prayers all at once outloud. Everyone spoke at once and was aborbed in his or her own prayer, so even if one was standing outside the hut, no one could distinguish what was said. In the fourth round, we all gave thanks.

We exited the hut inthe same counter clockwise manner. My big towels were a bit cumbersome, because I had to crawl all the way around to exit whereas I had an easy climb in just stopping at that first seat. Upon exit, each one said, or tried to say in my case, "Mitakuye Oyasin." (I quickly added an, "All my realtions," to make up for my poor tonque and pronunctiation.)

We ended with a handshake to all and a gracious, "Thank you," to each other.

A few folks went in for a fifth round, but I just laid on my towel, spent, yet exhilarated. As far as I could tell, we were in the ceremony for about two hours.

After everyone exited, we sat together and shared a meal.

And, then, I got in my car and headed back to town.


  1. Thanks for sharing some of your experience - Very interesting to read

    I promise that bbmumblings was caught up on the river.. we were being mesmerized by magical deer that run on water and other new pieces of nature we've never seen before

  2. WOW! always wanted to do that. Want to even more now!